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A unique donation will help this Richland group heal broken bones in far-off lands

Surgeons practicing an ankle procedure during last year’s SIGN Fracture Care International conference.
Surgeons practicing an ankle procedure during last year’s SIGN Fracture Care International conference. SIGN Fracture Care International

When about 150 physicians come to Richland next month for SIGN Fracture Care International’s annual orthopaedic conference, a unique donation will help better prepare them to save lives in the developing world.

Science Care is providing cadaver tissue to be used during training at the four-day event.

“It speaks to our mission overall,” said Tricia Hammett, senior vice president of Science Care, a whole body donation program. “SIGN is a really good example of what our donors will their body for — to advance medical care and education. It’s a legacy (the donors) leave behind.”

The company Surgical Training Institute also is pitching in, providing a mobile lab for the conference.

SIGN, based in Richland, was started by Dr. Lewis Zirkle to treat broken bones in developing countries.

It creates and donates surgical implants that can be used in hospitals with few resources and limited technology. It also provides training and support to physicians.

The work SIGN does is critical in developing countries, where breaks are particularly devastating.

“The patients we serve are often the bread winner in a family,” so their injuries threaten not only them, but the loved ones they’re supporting, said Terry Smith, engineering manager at SIGN.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis presents the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service to Dr. Lewis G. Zirkle at a ceremony in Richland. In 1999, Zirkle founded SIGN Fracture Care International to manufacture and donate orthop

SIGN’s annual conference draws physicians from around the world. In 2015, doctors from Nepal, who treated countless patients with broken bones after a massive earthquake, shared their stories with the Herald while in town for the conference..

While surgeons can learn about SIGN’s techniques from other physicians and practice using simulation, the chance to work with donated cadaver tissue is invaluable, officials said.

“It’s what you see in real life,” Smith said. “It cements the learning.”

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The mobile lab at last year’s SIGN Fracture Care International conference. SIGN Fracture Care International

Science Care is the world’s largest accredited whole body donation program. It’s helped with treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes.

Science Care is donating lower body and arm tissue for the conference. It made a similar donation last year.

SIGN has trained 5,000 surgeons in dozens of countries, from Malawi to Vietnam to Haiti.

“SIGN surgeons have treated over 220,000 patients, and education is imperative as we continue to pursue innovative training methods to treat more complex fractures,” Zirkle said in a statement. “These patients would have severe disabilities from a simple fracture without the hands-on knowledge facilitated by Science Care’s cadavers, and we couldn’t be more grateful for their support.”

SIGN’s conference is Sept. 12-15.

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529
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